It’s normal for ball joints to wear down over the life of your vehicle. Just like changing the oil, changing your tire, or anything else, changing out your ball joints is a relatively straightforward DIY job.
Even though it sounds more complicated than changing out your oil (and to be fair, it is), replacing your ball joints is a rewarding job that anyone with a bit of time and some elbow grease can do.
But before we can get to the how-to, let’s back up a bit.
What Are Ball Joints?
Your ball joint is as the name implies, a ball and socket joint. It’s the same type of joint as your hip joint.
Your ball joint is made up of a metal housing and a stud, which can move around within the housing.
Ball joints are a component of your car’s front suspension. The complex mechanics of your front suspension allow your front wheels to move up and down independent of one another or turn either left or right together.
Ball joints are a critical part of your front suspension, and as they wear and age can damage your alignment, which can cause your tires to wear unevenly, in addition to a number of other issues.
How Often Should Ball Joints Be Replaced?
Typically, your ball joints will need to be replaced after 100,000 miles, although this depends on the conditions you typically drive in. A safe range is anywhere between 75,000 to 125,000 miles. On newer vehicles, ball joints don’t need to be replaced as often.
In older vehicles, the boot covering the joint is more apt to tear and allow grime into the joint itself, which can cause it to seize up. The load-bearing ball joints in your vehicle will wear sooner than the non-load-bearing joints.
How Do I Know If I Need To Replace My Ball Joints?
Ball joints are just one part of the complicated mechanics of the front suspension, so it’s difficult to point the finger directly at them without getting a detailed inspection. However, there are a few notable signs that you should pay attention to.
Signs Of Bad Ball Joints
If you are hearing squeaks or rattles when driving over uneven surfaces, or when turning, you may have an issue with your ball joints. You may also feel more vibration when driving, and experience uneven wear on your tires as a result of your car being out of alignment.
You may also notice your steering is looser than usual, or in some cases increased steering wheel vibration that smooths out as you accelerate to highway speeds.
How To Check If Your Ball Joints Are Bad
If you want to check if your ball joints are bad, you have several options. You can simply turn the steering wheel so you have access to the front suspension components. If you notice the boot covering the ball joint is torn, your ball joint will need to be replaced.
The other way to check is to put your car up on a jack, and then put your hands at the 12 and 6 positions on the tires. Then, try to move the tire. A normal vehicle should have no play in it. However, if your ball joints are bad you may hear a clunking noise or feel play in the wheel.
Having your ball joints inspected at a regular interval is worth it, and many manufacturers recommend it because driving with worn ball joints can cause your wheel to come loose, which probably isn’t something you want.
Ball joints can also be expensive, with the cost of repair (including an alignment, which is required when you get new ball joints) coming in at anywhere between $200-$1,000 dollars, according to Repairpal.
Much of this depends on how many ball joints your vehicle has. Some vehicles have 2, others have 4.
Can You Drive A Car With Bad Ball Joints?
Driving on bad ball joints is not recommended. As the joint loosens over time, it begins to wear faster and faster. If your ball joint fails, your suspension can collapse and you can lose control of your vehicle.
Compared to the damage a broken ball joint can cause, which can be in the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, it’s just not worth it to drive on bad ball joints. If you suspect your ball joint is on its way out, you should refrain from driving until the repair is complete.
Fortunately, if you are feeling up to the job, replacing your own ball joints is very doable.
Yes, You Can Replace Your Ball Joints Yourself
If you’re feeling handy and want to tackle a reasonably easy repair, replacing your ball joints is a great way to scratch the itch.
You can certainly do it yourself for the price of parts, and a bit of elbow grease. You will need a ball joint press, but you should be able to rent one of these from your local Auto Zone or a similar retailer. They can also be bought on Amazon for relatively cheap.
For example, this ball joint press below will set you back less than $50 bucks.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace a Ball Joint?
One of the major benefits of replacing your ball joints at home is the cost savings. Ball joints cost between $30-$125 dollars depending on which one you need, with most vehicles needing ball joints that cost less than $65 dollars apiece.
The labor component itself is more expensive, which is somewhere between $100-$200 dollars depending on the average per hour labor rate in your state.
As a ballpark estimate, if you take your vehicle to a mechanic (and why would you, if you are reading this article?) you can expect to pay anywhere between $150-$400 dollars for the replacement.
Whereas if you do the repair at home the part itself will likely cost you around $65 dollars. Assuming you have the tools (and even if you don’t, they are fairly cheap), the repair will only cost you $65 dollars plus some of your time.
If you don’t have the tools you should add the cost of the ball joint press (which you can rent for free), as well as a torque wrench and socket set. All together this will run you about $200 dollars at most, plus you’ll then have the tools and the know-how to do the repair again in the future if needed!
How Long Does It Take To Replace Ball Joints?
A skilled mechanic can knock out both sides of your vehicle in about an hour. If this is your first time doing the repair, we suggest budgeting between 2-3 hours as you get familiar with the process.
Even though it isn’t a difficult repair by any means, taking your time and paying attention to the process will pay dividends in the long run for your vehicle repair skills.
Yes, You Should Replace Both The Upper and Lower Ball Joints at The Same Time
It’s advisable to work on both the upper and lower ball joint at the same time. The reason for this is simple: you’ll save yourself time.
To get at your ball joints you’ll need to put your car on a jack stand and then remove the wheel, and depending on the type of ball joint, may need to remove the steering knuckle and brake calipers completely.
Considering this is a bit of a pain (especially if you are new to this) it makes sense to replace both at once.
How To Replace Your Ball Joints
Once you’ve acquired the ball joint you intend to replace, park your vehicle on a flat surface. You don’t want it rolling anywhere while you’re working on your vehicle.
Once your vehicle is on a flat surface, and you’ve given it a few hours to sit (if you were driving it recently) you are free to begin.
Step 1: Put Your Vehicle On Jack Stands
To access your ball joints, you need to have the vehicle on jack stands. Jack both front wheels off the ground and then support the vehicle with jack stands.
2: Inspect The Ball Joints And Confirm They Need To Be Replaced
Take a look behind your wheel to figure out if your ball joints do actually need to be replaced.
Check for play on the wheels using this instructional video above by YouTuber ChrisFix.
3: Remove The Wheel Cover & Wheel
To work on the ball joint, you’ll need to remove the wheel to access the ball joint.
First, remove the wheel cover so that you can access the axle nut. It may be helpful to work some silicon spray into the nut to make it easier to remove.
Once the axle nut is removed, you want to loosen the lug nuts before you go ahead and jack the car up. Having the lugnuts loosened ahead of time will prevent you from having to crank down on them while your vehicle is on the jack, which is what you want to avoid.
We strongly recommend coating your lugnuts and axle nut with WD40 after this step is done. These nuts are exposed to all kinds of road grime and grit, and can be a pain in the butt to work loose. Taking this preventative measure now will save you a lot of hassle for future repairs.
4: Remove The Cotter Pin & Castellated Nut
Once you’ve removed the wheel and wheel cover, take a pair of needle-nose pillars and pull the cotter pin loose from the castellated nut.
Then, loosen the nut, but leave it in place so you don’t lose it while completing the other steps.
5: Free The Ball Joint From The Steering Knuckle
A normal ball joint should fit tightly into the steering knuckle, which may make this step difficult. You need to guide the ball joint through the upper half of the steering knuckle.
Depending on how seized up your ball joint is, you may need to use a crowbar or mallet in order to free the ball joint from the steering knuckle.
6: Remove The Bolts Holding The Control Arm
Loosen bolts or drill out rivets holding the ball joint in place, and slide out the ball joint.
If your ball joints are pressed in, use a simple ball joint press (which you can rent from AutoZone or buy above) and press the old ball joint out and then the new one in.
7: Replace The New Joint In The Steering Knuckle
Slide the new rubber boot over the ball joint stud and then guide the new ball joint back through the steering knuckle where it came from.
8: Bolt The Joint Back Into Place
We reccomend using WD40 or another penetrating spray on each bolt and bolt location prior to replacing any joints. This will make them easier to work with the next time you need to work on the suspension.
Make sure you torque down each bolt to the required specifications.
9: Replace The Wheel and Wheel Cover
Once you’ve finished this, then you are all done! Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Your Car’s Warranty And/Or Vehicle Service Contract May Cover Your Ball Joints
If your car has less than 60,000 miles on it or is less than 5 years old, it may still be under warranty. If your ball joints have gone out early, this may mean that you are entitled to have them replaced for free!
Before you do the repair yourself, we advise that you check with your vehicle’s warranty booklet to see if A) your vehicle is still under warranty and B) if your ball joints are covered by your warranty.
If they are, simply take your vehicle to the dealership and have them replaced for free with no elbow grease needed on your part! What a deal!
The same is true if you have a vehicle service contract.
Generally speaking, ball joints (as part of the suspension) are covered by a vehicle service contract, such as our Select and Supreme plans.
Many other providers, including our competitors like Endurance, Carshield, and Toco have plans that cover your ball joints.
A vehicle service contract will pay the mechanic instead of you for the cost of any covered repairs. This means you could skip replacing your ball joints at home and have us pay the mechanic to fix them instead of you.
If that sounds like a good deal to you, fill out the free quote form below and learn just how much you could be saving on car repairs with a vehicle service contract from Protect My Car.